One of things I love to do when I get to a city is find a cafe. get cozy, and move in so to speak. From pole position I can people watch, observe the locals, and for brief moments become part of the town. I usually pick a favourite and stick to it, create my ‘hangout.’ Sure, I occasionally venture to try another cafe, and have more then one I like to frequent, (see my Rome list) but once I have picked ‘my’ cafe it is usually for life. It will be my first stop upon arrival and part of my daily routine during my stay.
Except in Florence where I have two. Here I must take equal turns (usually once a day in each) between the very pretty genteel cafe life at Rivoire on Piazza della Signoria, and the iconic Caffe Gilli on the Piazza della Republica. Both offer that Grand Cafe glamor with marble counter space to sip a bevarage with the locals, and both offer amazing views of the piazza albeit different piazze. And most important the both offer delicious sweets, a hearty cup of espresso, and old world service. So I very happily stop in to each at least once a day when I visit trying hard not to pick a favourite child. I am not complaining mind you as there are worse things in life then starting your day with coffee in one and ending the day having aperitivo at the other.
Piazza seating at Rivoire
Rivoire is on the picturesque and historical Piazza della Signoria. Sitting outside offers the best views of the Palazzo Vecchio and at night the nearly operatic musical performances out on the piazza gives free entertainment. You are sitting in a live museum where what Florence has to offer hits all the senses. It is therefore very hard to drag yourself inside, but the advantage there is being closer to the locals as outside you will have a more touristy crowd for the obvious reason of the piazza views. Inside is an old fashion caffe in the best sense of the word. Mirrors and polished marble floors, crisp linen table cloths, it is like stepping back in time. Rivoire began its life as a chocolate shop so the pastries are superb. And the hot chocolate is not to be missed, thick and rich, it is dessert in a teacup and hearty on colder days. I hold a special memory at Rivoire as upon my very first trip to Florence, I came here, and even on a warm Spring afternoon chose to sit inside by the window and write postcards as I drank a cappuccino feeling like I was really living the Italian dream like I imagined it… And I really was in that perfect moment at Rivoire.
Inside counter at Gilli
Yet I am trying hard not to play favourites here, and Gilli too is a forever favourite place for me. The Piazza della Republica lacks the intimacy and decorative elements of the Piazza della Signoria, so space is much more open and there is a dramatic grandness to everything on the piazza itself. So Gilli has a much more energetic vibe to it, and it is wonderful for aperitivo time, a great place to have a Campari, and sip the Florentine born (some claim here at Gilli) cocktail of the Negroni. But here too the interior of this classic caffe is really where the beauty is, a true jewel of cafe life. While not a large space, it feels quite grand with chandeliers and marble, and the back sitting room is very elegant. But it’s the action of standing with those at the counter, watching the coffee being made, where you feel the heart of this place. Whether to pick up a thimble of espresso or to have a drink, standing at the altar of this caffe’s counter is one of the great experiences of Florence.
So hard to chose and why when you don’t have to. If you’re looking for me you will find me here or there… at both places, enjoying being part of Florence.
Piazza della Signoria, 5, 50122 Florence, Italy
Via Roma 1/R – 50123 Firenze – Italy